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Classroom Connections with Mercy Connect

Ukrainian student Khrystyna, 6, loves kangaroos and the library in her new school, but misses her cat, Jessie. Her friend, Daneliia, 6, misses her old Kindergarten class back home, but loves the Opera House and the beaches in Australia.

Both girls have been in Australia for a year after having to leave their homeland in the Ukraine, due to the war. They are now happily settling into their new classroom at St Joachim’s Catholic Primary School in Lidcombe.

Sr Flo enjoys reading with Kindy Gold every Wednesday Photo: Nikki Short

Khrystyna and Daneliia are part of the Mercy Connect Refugee, Asylum seekers and Humanitarian background program, which has been operating in schools since 2008, to assist school students, groups of adults and their families from refugee backgrounds adjust to life in Australia.

We recruit, train and support 128 volunteer mentors supporting 968 students in 68 schools in Western Australia, Victoria and NSW as well as five adult classes.

For students who are refugees and those seeking asylum, adjusting to a whole new life in Australia presents many challenges. Many of them arrive in Australia after having experienced lengthy periods of dislocation, grief and trauma.

Two of our trained MC volunteers, Sr Flo Snell and Jan Finkelstein, have been working in classrooms every Wednesday for seven years at St Joachim’s, to help with students who need extra support.

“We’ve been fortunate and lucky enough to have Mercy Connect work in our school and have two wonderful educators who come and work with us in our kindergarten room,” says Maria Maiorana, Principal at St Joachim’s.

Miss Jan connects with students in Kindy Gold Photo: Nikki Short

“They’re both volunteers, but we’ve just been so grateful to have two experience educators who are willing to come and share their knowledge and expertise with our teachers and students. They are so loved in the school, the children absolutely adore them, and they are constantly asking when is Miss Flo coming? When is Miss Jan coming? Is today their day?

Maria says Lidcombe is in a prime position to accept students from The Ukraine because they are so close to the Ukrainian Church which is only a few doors down from the school.

“Because of that community we have been very fortunate to have some Ukrainian students come to join our school community, and some of those little ones are also in our kindy room and they have also had the benefit of being involved with Mercy Connect. Just being in community everyone feels they belong to one community. So we have children from Ukraine, from China, from Korea, India, the Philippines – so when you come to St Joachim’s everyone belongs. We all come from different parts of the world, but we all share the same values we hold the same things important and that’s what makes our school super special.”

The Mercy Connect volunteers help with many different aspects of curriculum in the classroom. They work with literacy curriculum, listening to students read, helping them with their writing sometimes with numeracy and other aspects of their work.

“But the most important aspect is the way they connect with the student and that special sense of care that’s offered that everybody belongs, and the world is made up of so many different people and here in our classroom we can accept and see the giftedness that everybody has. It’s good for the students to see we have the youngest students and we’ve got the older members of society together all working for the same thing,” says Maria.

Kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Doherty says she really couldn’t do it without our Mercy Connect mentors!

“Some of the kids who struggled at the beginning [with their English] have really made massive improvements that they’ve been more verbal in the way they speak to others, and they want to do more to help me and themselves in the classroom. Miss Flo and I working as a team to set these kids for life so they can go out into the world and be awesome,” she says.

“Having someone like Miss Flo side by side with the students builds confidence, self-esteem, well being and social skills. Miss Flo has given kindergarten the need for connection with adults and it presents a picture of how older adults can contribute we just love her. She’s amazing. I have appreciated every minute she has spent in the class with us. And what can I say? I appreciate it. She really enhances the vibe in the classroom.”

Sr Flo became a volunteer with Mercy Connect because she was looking for something more to do.

“The children themselves are a breath of fresh air but I’ve got to say this there’s a lot of tragedy in the world today and drama and things they drag us down. But I come in here and this just gives me life. I actually absolutely love it….I go home exhausted but it’s a refreshing kind of exhaustion!

Principal Maria Maiorana reads with students at Sr Joachim’s Primary School Picture: Nikki Short

Principal Maria says she can’t praise her experience with Mercy Connect enough.

“Anyone who would be lucky enough to have Mercy Connect come and work with them can expect only wonderful things out of an association with them. They bring not only support into the classroom, but they bring that sense of human connectedness that everyone strives to have in their school, so I could only highly praise the experience I’ve had with Mercy Connect and only offer my words of acknowledgment for what they’ve done and how they have assisted our school and our students.”

Mercy Connect welcomes your school to join our program. Or if you would like to volunteer with our Mercy Connect Program click on the link below


WATCH NOW! Mercy Connect at St Joachim’s Primary School 

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